A couple of reviews of books about 16th century England

Both reviewers are prominent historians. Keith Thomas reviews The Watchers: A Secret History of the Reign of Elizabeth I by Stephen Alford. It’s a study of Elizabethan spies and intelligence efforts. He concludes:

Stephen Alford’s engrossing book reminds us that most governments will stop at very little if national security is at stake. When political conflicts are exacerbated by fanatically held religious differences, the outcome is even more deadly.

The other review is by Diarmaid MacCulloch of Eamon Duffy’s Saints, Sacrilege and Sedition. It’s a collection of essays by the author of Stripping of the Altars and The Voices of Morebath (both of which I assigned in my classes over the years). MacCulloch is critical of Duffy for overemphasizing popular resistance to Reform and argues in the review that by the mid-Tudor period, the lines between Catholic and Protestant were fairly clearly drawn, that Duffy tends to overemphasize Catholic sentiment, and occasionally simply misreads the evidence. Most interesting, MacCulloch ends with an anecdote new to me that reveals the complexity of religion in sixteenth-century England:

In 1566, Elizabeth I’s archbishop of Canterbury, Matthew Parker, was disconcerted to receive a bill from the bailiffs of the city of Oxford. They were still owed £43 out of the £63 that was their expenditure for guarding and burning Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley and Thomas Cranmer, back in Mary’s reign. Mary’s government added meanness to its brutality, and had not paid up. “The case is miserable, the debt is just,” the Puritan president of Magdalen College wrote in perplexity to the archbishop. So Parker, feeling that it was only fair, had a whip-round among his fellow Protestant bishops to pay for the expenses of burning England’s most famous Protestant martyrs. I wonder if any counter-reformation bishops would have reimbursed damnable heretics, had they presented that sort of bill.

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